Saturday, July 15, 2017

Math and Passion

One of the things that has been bugging me lately. I have several close friends who are very passionate about certain issues... and they are wrong. Simply wrong. In some cases, the issue they are excited about doesn't exist. In a few, the words they use do not mean what they think they mean. In a very few cases, the words that they use originally meant the exact opposite of what they think they mean. Black has become white; dogs are cats; freedom is slavery.

Where do I get the right to say that they are wrong and I'm right? Fair question. This is the way my brain works: These are people I care about and generally, but not always, that means I admire their intelligence*. If they believe X and I believe Y, I assume I'm wrong. I then, depending on the question go to first sources (like the actual court case). Or go to the data (the Bureau of Justice Statistics, commonly). Or design an experiment (Who is more hateful, X or Y? Let's type "All x should die" and "All y should die" into google and see who is talking about killing most.)

I think that's pretty solid. Confidant that it is far more than the people I am disagreeing with have done.

But here's the question, and it's really two three questions.
1) Should I even bother to tell them I disagree? I know a few sense it, but as long as it stays submerged, the friendship continues fine. Understand, they are usually passionate about their position-- one even said it was important enough it was okay to be wrong. I can't even wrap my head around that, largely because I'm not passionate about the positions. I am relatively passionate about the path to those positions.
2) If I decide to have this disagreement, how? Facts don't actually sway people. For that matter, if we agreed on an experimental design and their position was mathematically proven flawed, my experience is that they would double down. And never forgive me.
Oooh. There's a third question.
3) Most of them are happy being passionate. It may come across in words as feeling outcast and beleaguered and under constant attack, but that belief makes them feel special and gives their life meaning. If someone is wholly invested in their enemies as a core of their identity, is pointing out that their enemies** are imaginary a dick move?

The challenge here is not winning the argument. My ego doesn't need the strokes of winning. The challenge is preserving the friendship and, possibly, helping a few friends avoid a path that will be hard to recover from.




*There are other virtues I admire besides intelligence. No one has to be perfect or superior in all categories to be my friend.
** And this is a really fine line because there are always a few real assholes. There are millions of good christians, but the 70 (or less) members of the Westboro Baptist Church make the news. There are tens of thousands of people working to make a better world, but the loudest, shrillest and stupidest two percent become the poster children for 'Social Justice Warriors.' As long as that worse 2 % or 70 individual or whatever exist, the enemies, just barely, miss being completely imaginary.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Criticism ≠ Teaching

The last post was laying the groundwork for this one. I thought starting with the universally acknowledged evils of micromanagement would make this post more palatable. Instead, Danny Martin gave a very capable defense of an unpopular and nearly indefensible position. Truly well done.

Jumping into this anyway, because it is important.

Criticism is a shitty teaching paradigm. Telling people they are doing things wrong, even telling them what they are doing wrong is literally worse than useless: Useless teaching would leave students unimproved. Criticism actually makes the students worse.

This will probably be a hard sell. When I came up through the (primarily Japanese) traditional martial arts, stern criticism was the standard teaching method. I've even had an instructor say, "Only perfect is good enough." And I was cautioned not to praise students because it would make them lazy. In the law enforcement world, right after I was promoted a senior sergeant told me, "Do you know why you'll never be a good sergeant? Because you don't understand that everyone is lazy and dishonest and our job is to catch them and punish them." Her crews were consistently poor performers because they spent more time watching their backs around her than doing the job.

But it's only a hard sell because we are all so used to it. When something is shitty, being the norm doesn't make it less shitty. We know criticism is poor teaching methodology.

Why is it bad? Let me count the ways.

  1. It's all brakes, no engine. Criticism stops behavior. If that behavior isn't replaced with a better alternative, improvement can only happen by luck.
  2. Criticism almost always works off the wrong metric. The instructor judges a strike (for instance) by whether it looked right. In striking, looks don't matter for shit, it's a kinesthetic skill.
  3. Criticism, especially of the wrong metric, is usually arbitrary. The coach may be looking at foot placement one minutes and hand position the next, may focus on a minor problem in stance and miss the big problem (something that would result in injury) in the hands.
  4. The instructor's reaction becomes the student's metric. Not whether the technique worked, not how much energy was delivered, but whether they got yelled at or not. Getting better, when you are measuring improvement by the wrong metric, is nearly impossible.
  5. When the student is anticipating the instructor's reactions, the student is thinking. Cognitive processing is too slow to use effectively in a hand-to-hand conflict and thinking about irrelevant things is worse. Excessive criticism makes your students slow.
  6. When the students are driven to avoid criticism, it pushes them from a gains maximization to a loss minimization strategy. In other words, they are no longer trying to win, they are trying not to lose, and that is usually a very weak, passive and reactionary strategy when the shit hits the fan.
  7. And to compound point six, the game they are trying not to lose isn't even the right game. They are worried about what sensei will say, not working to put the bad guy down.
  8. At the extreme end of this, when everything is criticized, the only strategy left to the students is to do as little as possible, to become as passive as possible. The condition is called, in psychology, "Learned Helplessness." Constant criticism creates passive people, which is another word for victims.
And we know the answer to this. From behavioral psychology or modern teaching theory or MBWA (Management by Walking Around.)

  1. Reward even small improvements. It doesn't have to be anything big, just a "Good job" or a nod. Just as people decrease behaviors that are criticized (punished) they increase behaviors that are rewarded. Rewarding small improvements creates a vector toward further improvement.
  2. Tell the students what to do. Avoid telling them what not to do. "Avoid telling them what not to do" is only seven words but because of the double negations 'avoid' and 'not' it is tons less clear than "Tell the students what to do." Positive statements are clearer than negative statements.
  3. Don't criticize bad techniques, replace them. Instead of telling someone her stance is wrong, show her where her feet should be and explain why.*
  4. Use the right metric. If you are teaching strikes properly, it will show on the heavy bag.
  5. Let nature judge. A lot of the wrong ways to do things hurt. That's why they are the wrong ways. Improper hand positioning hurts your wrist when you punch the heavy bag. A canvas bag will teach you when your punching angles are off. All the wrong ways to do a break fall hurt. If you use the right metrics, you almost never have to criticize because the world takes care of that for you.
One of the most annoying training scars I see are students that are so used to being constantly criticized that they criticize themselves. They handle a scenario brilliantly or snap into a counter-assault technique against multiple simultaneous attacks, and you can see it in their eyes, sometimes even their lips move: They are chewing themselves out for some tiny detail that didn't even effect the outcome. They are so used to being criticized that they have a tiny sensei in their heads telling them they did it wrong. No matter what 'it' is. No matter whether it was wrong or not.

That's bullshit, and if you have that little voice in your head, kill it.


*Quick note on explaining. I find it very useful to explain the underlying physiology or physics that make something work. If the principles are true, they apply everywhere and if the student understands the principles, he or she can adapt them under stress. That said, the principles work. They have visible effects. If you have to explain that something worked when it clearly didn't, you're wrong. You aren't explaining, you're attempting to brainwash.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Micromanagement ≠ Leadership

I think it was Machiavelli in his Art of War that said "The greatest reward for a fighting man is simply to trust him." That resonated. I'd worked for a long time under a variety of people put in leadership positions. Just being in the position doesn't make someone a leader. The true leaders, the ones that inspired loyalty and dedication, had alls aid, at some point, "You've got this." And let me handle things on my own.

Machiavelli (if I'm attributing it to the right person) specifically applied it to fighters. I don't think that's necessarily true--everyone takes micromanagement as an insult. But it's more explicit in dangerous professions. A firefighter I know is incensed that he has to spend more time in each report documenting his PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) than his job. He showed me one report-- nearly half a page of what equipment he put on and in what order. Barely four lines on extracting the subject from the wrecked car.

When you are entrusted with life or death decisions, being treated like a child throws a huge mixed message.

So here's the deal. If you are a micromanager, you aren't a leader. You aren't even a shitty leader. You're a busybody who likes to feel important by interfering with better people than yourself. If you have employees who need to be watched every second either you need to hire adults or, more likely they aren't the problem.

When you get the micromanager who always finds fault, it is something else. If everything a worker does is wrong, no matter how closely they follow policy or even if they were just following the last set of orders, what's going on isn't even management, micro or otherwise. It is straight-up victim grooming. Creating a field of passive people for the manager's games.

I doubt if most micromanagers realize what they are. Humans are excellent at rationalizing and it's easy to reframe micromanagement as "Being explicit" or "I'm a hands-on guy." But on the tiny chance someone reads this and sees through their own bullshit and decides to change... it won't be easy.

No matter your intentions, all those years of micromanagement have instilled in your people the idea that you don't trust them-- and that they can't trust you. They will literally assume that you turning over a new leaf is a trap. That you will give them enough trust to show some initiative and then will ruthlessly punish them for that initiative.

This easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you change your behavior and don't notice any benefit for a day or a week or a month, it is easy to revert. The reversion just becomes further evidence that your attempt at change was insincere.

Note: Going out of my lane a little, but setting up for the next post, which is about the teaching equivalent of micromanagement.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Olympian

You are amazing.
When I die, these are the things that I will have wished I said and possibly the things you would have wished to have heard. I'm thinking of my son right now, but that's just a focal point. If your dad (or whoever) had the words, these are the words that need to be said:

You have never disappointed me. You might have felt that, but know it was never so. When you were born, I held in my arms a perfect example of perfect human potential. An awe-inspiring bundle of possibility. Innate power and potential of cosmic proportions.
In Greek myth, the heroes were half gods. Heracles, the son of Zeus and a mortal mother; Aeneas the son of Aphrodite and a mortal father. This is how I see you, how all humans are: Something incredible and powerful and heroic. Supernatural in your birthright.
That is how I see you.
If you sensed disappointment, it was never with you, but with the world. You have had to make compromises; we all have. And I may have sighed because the choice you made was not the choice I wanted, since I wanted to see you as a pure and perfect god. But the choices you made were pure and perfect, given the information you had and the priorities you placed. I might have wanted you to stand above the world, but you were neck-deep in the world, protecting the weak, calculating the consequences. I had a Socratic, imaginary ideal-- you had a gritty reality. You made your choices based on that reality. You made the best choices you could, and I love you for that.
I wish that you could see yourself as I see you. The strength, the growing wisdom, the compassion, the insight. You are mightier than you can possibly imagine.
Walk in the world as an Olympian. Nurture your strength and cherish the strength of the minigods all around you. It is a beautiful and complex world, and you are an integral part of that beauty and complexity.
Be.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Impossible

Sometimes you get a request that is just flabbergasting. If that's a word.
"We want an unarmed defensive tactics system for our officers that works the same for all officers regardless of size, gender or age, that will work on all threats regardless of size, strength or mental state and has zero risk of injury to the offender."
"You realize that's impossible, right?"
"You don't have anything? We'll keep looking."

The latest. A request for comprehensive self-defense training but with absolutely no element of violence. This one is tempting. Not the material. As requested, it's simply stupid. It's the students. The people who want this do home visits on people who are in the system. Often alone, this student base has daily contact with a population that frequently have criminal records and a history of violence. These are kids (adults, but at a certain age, everybody starts to look like a kid) going into harm's way to do good things. If anyone needs a comprehensive program, these are the people.

Naively, I alsoused to believe that there was always a non-violent solution, but even then I realized there wasn't always time to find that solution. I was wrong. There are people who enjoy hurting others, and only force or the threat of force will stop them. Predators who can't feel closure without pain. Really bad guys who need to see someone break. People who honestly believe that acceding to a verbal solution is an act of cowardice.
" You boys have been real nice, but I guess now it's time to make you fuck me up." When I asked, "Why?" later the old man said, "If I went to jail and didn't fight, I wouldn't be a man." People satisfying needs with pain isn't limited to the BDSM world.

Realistically, the big gains in SD are in the non-violent soft skills. Recognizing and avoiding dangerous places and people. Recognizing when an individual is setting you up or weakening your position. Escape, evasion and de-escalation. Usually, by the time things go physical, it's pretty desperate. This isn't how to out-fight a fighter, but how to deal with a bigger, stronger threat who chose the time and place and conditions (weapon, numbers...)

This isn't a Disney movie. Things can go very bad. The belief that there is always a non-violent solution creates blindspots and vulnerabilities. If any belief is that precious to you, you will fail to recognize and respond to the exceptions. People don't train for things they don't believe in. It is a belief that makes one voluntarily both blind and unprepared.

You all know this. But some people don't get it. More accurately, they refuse to get it. Teaching the impossible isn't a new problem. It starts with education. Over the years, I've found a bag of tricks to get people to see. That's why I use Maslow, and where the distinction between aggressive, destructive (including self-destructive) and assaultive behavior comes in. Why we discuss ethics explicitly. Personal clarity between what people want and what people need.

Whoah. Damn. Rewind and erase. I just strawmanned all over myself. Shit. All the objections and blindspots I just talked about? Realizing... You don't see these in the field. EMTs, nurses, police, corrections, security, even the people manning the desk at the local VA-- every last one I've talked to has recognized the need for something truly comprehensive. They're usually the ones who contact me. The impossible demands have all come from desk pushers, people who write and protect policy. People who live in idealistic abstraction of the real world.

Unfortunately, they tend to be the ones who control what the line staff get.

Not to self: Remember not to confuse institutions with people.





Friday, June 02, 2017

Misfit Toys

This is a message to someone special. Might be you, might not.
It's all good. Remember watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer all those years ago and the Island of the Misfit Toys and you thought, "That's me" ?  Me too. And it's all good.

Don't like who you're supposed to like? Care about things other people think are too small or too big? You dig into history while the people around you parrot what their peer group says? Fuck 'em. Seriously, fuck 'em. No one is trying to make you better. They're just trying to make you more like them. That's how they define better-- conformity.

Not that long ago, a friend wanted to introduce me to one of his people. I asked, "What's he like?" R said, "He's broken, but he's broken our way." R is one of the most effective individuals I know, even if he is broken. Because he's broken my way.

It's all good. We are all misfit toys. Find your family-of-choice. Cherish them deeply and protect them fiercely. Be proud. You may be a broken toy in this strangely plastic hothouse world, but when that world shatters you are the one who will function. They still won't like you, but they will need you. And that is something.

Happy birthday, HM


Friday, May 26, 2017

Tea with the Dark Wizard

Coffee, really.
Last weekend taught a full two-day seminar dissecting principles and application at Randy King's KPC Self Defense in Edmonton. Taking each of my eleven principles*, digging into it as much as time would allow, then playing and experimenting. It does no good to have something you intend to use in chaos just as a mental picture. You have to play with anything to understand it. You have to play with it to make it a part of you.

It was the first time organizing the information this way and teaching it all at once. It was some pretty deep water. The feedback was solid. Randy said it best, albeit in nerd speech: "I think I just leveled up as an instructor. This will help me steal the magic better."

Aside-- Stealing the magic. Ever run into an instructor who could do things you simply couldn't? Not talking the bullshit magic stuff like chi balls. Setting so he couldn't be lifted (structure) or push you across the room with almost imperceptible movement (structure + line and circle + balance). It's just good physics, but often the really good instructors can't explain what they are doing so they have real trouble teaching it. Understand the principles and you know what to look for. You can learn the good stuff they can't articulate well enough to teach. The stuff that looks like magic.

One of the attendees was Rick Wilson. Rick is the 60+ year old guy that the jocks are a little worried about playing sumo with. The guy who has studied traditional stuff and rejected traditional stuff and come full circle to find the body mechanics behind the traditional stuff. Smart. Really deep base of knowledge.

At some point, I think it was after InFighting last year, Dillon started calling Rick the Dark Wizard. His body mechanics are that good. And this is coming from Dillon...

Anyway, Randy and I had coffee and burgers with Rick. Good talks. About teaching, communication and writing. Trying to find decent answers to shitty and deadly situations. And in the details got yet another system of power generation to work on. Multi-directional joint expansion. I just started playing with joint expansion at all but here's yet another can of worms. Also Rick's "clamp" which is definitely going to improve my explanation of bone slaving (which is one piece of structure.)

Good times.


*Everyone should have their own list. Mine happens to have eleven. There are many good ways to organize information